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Politics & Policy

Media Question New York Times’ ‘Blunder’

The New York Times office in New York City (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

When Brian Stelter, who is to sloppy journalists what Mr. Wolf of Pulp Fiction was to sloppy killers, calls out a fellow journo, it ought to cause a massive outbreak of the yikes. Stelter is questioning the New York Times‘ unconscionable (but also deeply unshocking) decision to leave out of its Saturday night blockbuster story the most important detail, which is that the woman who supposedly had Brett Kavanaugh’s penis shoved into her hand by multiple people without her consent at a party 30-odd years ago has told friends she has no recollection of the matter and has declined to make an issue of it with reporters or anyone else. (The Saturday night essay was adapted from the book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, by two Times reporters.)

Stelter’s morning media newsletter (which is always worth reading though heavily slanted to the left) is headlined, “Times turmoil.” Stelter suggests the Times needs to “take disciplinary action in the wake of this embarrassing episode” and adds “It is certainly possible, I’m told by a plugged-in staffer, as the newspaper reviews a glaring omission in its original story about the book and an offensive tweet about the story.”

Oliver Darcy of CNN published a piece headlined, “New York Times’ botched Kavanaugh story latest in series of blunders from Opinion section.”

“Turmoil engulfs the New York Times,” writes Joe Pompeo in Vanity Fair, another outlet that would ordinarily rather eat rusty nails than side with Brett Kavanaugh’s defenders. Pompeo reports that the Saturday night report ran in the Review section of the Times, and was tweeted out under the “Opinion” desk, was rejected by the news section for being a nothing burger.

On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough credited Mollie Hemingway (who got an early copy of the book and is the co-author of the pro-Kavanaugh/anti-media book Justice on Trial: the Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court) for being the first to draw attention to this journalistic malpractice. “Why is there this glaring omission in The New York Times story in there, were Mollie Hemingway and others on Twitter were saying that, in fact, she had no recollection of this happening and her friends were saying the same thing?” Scarborough asked. He said he could “not believe The New York Times would write this piece without that information contained in it. Are you surprised 24 hours — is it 24 hours went by before they clarified that fact?”

At the Washington Post, media critic Erik Wemple wrote in a tone of mild rebuke, under the headline, “The New York Times’ rocky Kavanaugh weekend,” that the Times was guilty of “a grievous omission, one that could account for some of the outrage following initial publication of the piece.” NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik went even milder:  “One can argue that the failure to remember, given her intoxication, is not dispositive. One can’t argue, however, that that fact didn’t need to be in the Kavanaugh story from the outset.”

One of the more embarrassing attempts to cover for the Times‘ blunder came from the young-adult site Vox, whose writer Aaron Rupar strikes a “Hey, they can’t prove it didn’t happen” tone.

The editors’ note does not suggest that the incident didn’t happen. It just indicates that the person said to have been victimized may not remember it — something that isn’t necessarily all that surprising given that the context was a “drunken dorm party.” And it’s not as though the allegation is completely devoid of corroboration. The story notes that Times reporters corroborated Stier’s story “with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier,” though it doesn’t provide details beyond that.

Here we see that Vox doesn’t understand the difference between corroboration and hearsay. If I say Vox is an insane clown kindergarten and two people confirm that I said Vox is an insane clown kindergarten, that doesn’t “corroborate my story”  in any way.


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